Who knew that eating meatballs could help cure disease? The Secaucus Knights of Columbus, that’s who. This month the Secaucus chapter will hold its annual Best Meatball Contest, with the proceeds to benefit Cure SMA, a volunteer-led organization designed to raise funds for research and treatment of spinal muscular atrophy.
The event takes place on Saturday, April 25 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. in the Immaculate Conception Church auditorium, and participants not only get to enjoy all the meatballs, pasta, dessert, wine, and beer they can consume, they get to vote on the best meatball in the contest.
Knights of Columbus member Neal McGarrity came up with the idea of the contest in 2011, inspired by a similar event at St. Francis Church in Hoboken.
“Ours is mostly the members or parishioners of the parish who cook 75 to 100 meatballs each,” said McGarrity. “We usually have anywhere from 16 to 20 contestants.”
Lest you think all meatballs are alike, think again.
“We had one of our members from Union City, three years ago he made moose meatballs,” said McGarrity. “He’s a taxidermist. Last year he made blue bull meatballs; it’s a kind of antelope from India that’s raised in Texas. He grinds it all up.”
If moose doesn’t appeal, there are plenty of other options, including some that stretch the definition of “meatball.”
“We have another guy from Jersey City who makes healthy meatballs, which is tofu meatballs,” said McGarrity. “One person called theirs ‘mystery meatball.’”
Attendees receive a colored ballot when they arrive. The color corresponds to one of four tables holding a selection of meatballs. After sampling the selections, the lucky eaters get to vote on the best meatball at that table.
Then the judges step in and taste the winners from each table. “Most of these judges, they own Italian restaurants,” said Giovanni Recalde, who is organizing this year’s event. “The judges pick the winning table.”
The best meatball winner receives $100, with a second place prize of $75 and third place of $25.
Rasising funds for research
The event was launched after Paulina Recalde, Giovanni’s sister, lost her son Daniel to SMA. Daniel was less than 8 months old at the time.
According to the Cure SMA website, the disease “robs people of physical strength by affecting the motor nerve cells in the spinal cord, taking away the ability to walk, eat, or breathe. It is the number one genetic cause of death for infants.”
“The worst thing is that you as a parent see he has the disease and you know there’s no cure, no treatment,” said Paulina. “He might die maybe tomorrow, maybe in one month. We lived in the hospital in Florida with my son for two months.”
Participants get to vote on the best meatball in the contest.
That’s when McGarrity suggested the Best Meatball event, and a tradition was born.
“Thanks to the support of the Knights of Columbus, family, friends, and our community in Secaucus, we will be hosting our fourth Meatball Contest,” said a grateful Paulina.
The first year the contest raised a little over $2,500. Each year since then the event has grown, and so has the amount donated to SMA research. “We have raised the amount of $11,283.00 since we started three years ago,” said Paulina. “We hope to push it to $15,000.00 this year.”
Take home a raffle prize
The annual Best Meatball Contest is one of many community and charitable events that Secaucus Knights of Columbus engages in over the course of the year. And it might be the most delicious.
Meatball makers are encouraged to sign up and enter the contest. Anyone with an appetite or a desire to support an important cause is invited to come enjoy the food and possibly even take home their own prize.
“We have a few sponsors,” said Giovanni. “They give us gift certificates for raffles.” Many restaurants in the area donated gift certificates to the event, with Natoli’s providing the pasta.
“We also have a contribution from the Immaculate Conception Church, they let us use the place,” said Giovanni.
The church is located at 1219 Paterson Plank Road. Admission to the event is $25 per person for all you can eat. Children under 17 are $10.
To purchase tickets or make a donation contact Neal Mcgarrity at (201) 575-9984 or Jim Cannan at (201) 647-4738, or visit http://events.curesma.org/site/PageServer?pagename=2015_BestMeatball_Home.
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.